My father remarried soon after the divorce, married the woman he’d left my mother for (this piece of information my mother does not deny, nor does my stepmother, through my father denies it, vigorously). They tried to have children in the ensuing years, but were unable. I assumed that the child-bearing parts of their lives were over. Fourteen years ago, when my father was 47 and my stepmother 42-ish, they had S. The next year came H.
There was something weird about all this, something I either couldn’t put my finger on or didn’t want to question too far. When my stepmother told me in February that she was pregnant with S., she said that the doctors had no idea how far along she was. They did some calculations and decided that the baby would be due in early August. S. was born in April, on Palm Sunday, and looks like she’s three months old in the picture I have of her taken on Easter. H. was born almost exactly nine months after S. My mother, who kept up with the story like she was watching a soap opera on TV, told me over and over that something wasn’t right about all this, that S. was not a newborn in that picture, that a 43-year-old woman could not have two babies in just under nine months with no complications. I was shaken, horrified, infuriated. I thought I had finished putting all my past problems with my father behind me, and now there was this. I finally made up my mind that there was no good reason why my father would lie to me, nothing that made sense at least, that S. and H. looked a lot like their parents, and that stranger things have happened.
But then, one September, when S. was four and H. was three, my sister ran into a friend-of-a-friend whose father used to work with our father, who asked my sister what she thought about the new babies.
My father had packed up wife and kids and moved to Saudi Arabia two years before. He and I had communicated sporadically at best when he was in Texas, and that had dramatically fallen off since his move. My sister, who was still having crawling trouble when our parents split, had even less of a connection to him than I did. Neither of us had heard from him in months. And neither of us had heard anything about any new babies.
But according to this distant acquaintance, my father and stepmother either had had or were about to have twins. Someone in the crowd of girls standing around my sister asked her, with just the right note of horror, how she could not know something like that. D. and I, after a panicked conversation, decided not to do anything, to wait and see how long it took the story to get to us.
Two weeks later, D. ran into our stepmother’s sister’s son at school. He asked her about the babies too. He’d talked to my father on the phone the night before and had found out that my father and stepmother were adopting two newborn Australian girls.
This was in October. In early November I finally got a letter from my father, announcing the arrival of R. and R., born in September. They weren’t sure it could happen, medically speaking, he said, so they hadn’t told anyone. But the babies and my stepmother were doing fine. No mention of Australia. No mention of adoption. No real mention of my stepmother actually giving birth, though that was the implication.
A few days later, my stepfather’s father died. At his funeral, a woman who had worked with my father before he left my mother came up and asked me whether the babies were girls or boys. “He told us she was expecting last time he was in town,” she said, “but I never found out how it turned out.”
I spoke to my father briefly at Christmas that year, and didn’t mention any of this. I didn’t tell him how furious I was that he did tell his colleagues about the impending babies, that he did tell his in-laws, but that he simply failed to tell his daughters. I didn’t tell him how much it upset me that I had to question everything he said, that there were always multiple stories surrounding everything he did, that I couldn’t even be sure that his four youngest daughters were his children by blood. I didn’t tell him how hurt I was that I was clearly not part of his family, and hadn’t been for years. I just lied and told him that I was in the middle of a letter to him, a letter in which I intended to make all of my feelings clear, a letter that ten years later I still haven’t written.
I’ve never met R. and R., who I think are now ten, and I haven’t seen S. or H. since they were in diapers. Who they are — much less who my father is — is something that, as it turns out, I’ll likely never know.